The Prayer over the Offerings for the First Sunday of Lent

by Alan Griffiths

The Latin text is:

Fac nos, quaesumus, Domine,
his muneribus offerendis convenienter aptari,
quibus ipsius venerabilis sacramenti celebramus exordium.
Per Christum ..

Three questions seem to arise from a consideration of this little prayer:

General: this is a prayer recited after the gifts have been presented, so ought not a translation of the gerundive his muneribus offerendis reflect that?

Particular: how should we take convenienter aptari?

What is the referent of ipsius venerabilis sacramenti ? Does it refer to the Eucharist or to Lent or to both? A similar reference is found in the Prayer over the Offerings for Ash Wednesday: Sacrificium quadragesimalis initii.

The Received text (RT) gives us:

Give us the right dispositions, O Lord, we pray,
to make these offerings,
for with them we celebrate the beginning
of this venerable and sacred time.
Through Christ our Lord.

In the first line, the Latin does not appear to have the ‘interiorised’ quality of RT’s ‘right dispositions.’ It might better be translated as something less specific, like ‘Make us fit and ready, we pray, O Lord, to offer these gifts’

RT’s expression is opaque. RT’s language is abstruse, its tone markedly ‘devotional.’ Yet the offering of the gifts is both an exterior and an interior action.

RT takes ipsius venerabilis sacramenti as referring to Lent.

I wonder whether a revision of this prayer might take its temporal location (after the presentation of the bread and wine) into account, and also try another approach with his muneribus offerendis convenienter aptari:

Make us, we pray, O Lord,
fitting bearers of the gifts presented here,
as with them we celebrate the beginning
of this venerable and sacred season.
Through Christ our Lord.

Alan Griffiths

Fr. Alan Griffiths is a priest of of Portsmouth Diocese, UK.

11 comments

  1. Both “for with them we celebrate the beginning” and “as with them we celebrate the beginning” sound to me as if the gifts are celebrating with us. Could there be an elegant way of saying “using them” instead?

    I wonder how many of the congregation are really celebrating the start of Lent, in the usual meaning of the word “celebrate” in current English? I think that most of us who go to Mass are familiar with the idea of “celebrating Mass” and “celebrating the Sacraments” using “celebrate” in the sense given as its first meaning in the Oxford English Dictionary “To perform publicly and in due form (any religious ceremony, a marriage, a funeral, etc.); to hold (a church council); to solemnize.” However when I hear the phrase “celebrate the beginning of Lent” my reaction is, “What is there to celebrate about beginning 40 days of penance?”

    I suspect that any strictly faithful translation of the original Latin is going to mean very little to the most of the people I see around me in the pews. Fortunately these prayers do not last very long.

  2. The more I think about this prayer, the more powerful it becomes.

    I see the passive mood of convenienter aptari as identifying us by intention (fac nos) with the munera offerenda. And the use of a gerundive rather than a past participle refers not only to the gifts that have been offered, but the offering of the Sacrifice that is yet to come. We are praying that we may be offered!

    And I would think that the exordium sacramenti refers to both the Eucharist and Lent.

    The extraordinary density of such prayers needs decryption before translation!

    1. @John Ainslie – comment #2:
      I think that’s a good insight of John Ainslie’s. It would suggest that ‘convenienter aptari’ might well be rendered as ‘to be made one with the offering of these gifts’ or something like that.

      AG

  3. Once again, it is clear that using the ubiqitous
    , we pray, O Lord,
    construction to translate quaesumus, Domine is a significant noise-factor in these prayers.

    A priest friend of mine claims that he adopts a John Le Mesurier accent for these prayers and, whenever he encounters “we pray” substitutes “Would you mind awfully?” (British readers familiar with the Dad’s Army TV comedy series will understand both the accent and the reference).

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #6:
      There seem to me to be three issues with the phrase ‘we pray, O Lord.’

      First, there is its absolute use. In English we would, I think, normally add the object ‘you’ as ‘we pray you, O Lord.’ But this is not the case in the Latin, which when it wishes to use ‘you’ normally employs a more elaborate phrase such as ‘supplices te rogamus.’

      Secondly, the Latin uses the phrase not just – or even – to ‘name’ the text as an oration, but also to supply the rhythm. This latter use is more significant, as where the rhythm does not demand it, the phrase is absent. The received text does not seem to have grasped this, as sometimes it inserts the phrase where it is not present in the Latin. So much for ‘Liturgiam Authenticam!’

      Thirdly, there is its position, folded into another phrase of petition. There are English uses of this as in the old song ‘Bless this house, O Lord, we pray ..’ But there it is also part of a rhyme scheme: ‘keep it safe by night and day.’ Its appearance in the Missal would be due to the general guidelines translators were working with, which would not, presumably, allow the more normal English usage to be employed.

      I am interested in priests’ reactions, though I deprecate someone using a comedic accentuation in speaking the prayer at Mass. I was asked recently by a colleague whether we may use the ‘Divine Office’ (the version of the Liturgy of the Hours used in the UK) translations of the collects at Mass as he found the Collect of the First Sunday of Lent somewhat hard to understand.

      AG

      1. @Alan Griffiths – comment #8:

        I am interested in priests’ reactions, though I deprecate someone using a comedic accentuation in speaking the prayer at Mass.

        I did say that he claimed to do this. Si non e vero, e ben trovato and all that. I do know, however, of a considerable number of priests who simply omit “we pray” every time it occurs. They say that for them it significantly improves the flow of these prayers.

  4. I thought that apto, with a dative, had a stronger sense of “preparation” (as in getting “geared up” for a battle). Alan picks this up in “make us fit and ready” in the main text of the post.

    If this is right, the idea of “preparation” is echoed in exordium (“beginning”), later in the prayer.

    Septua-, sexa- and quinquagesima aside, we are still just at the start of Lent.

  5. From 740 AD (the Gelasian Sacramentary) until 1970, this was the Secret for the Wednesday in Quinquagesima week (which we now celebrate as Ash Wednesday).

    I think ‘sacramenti’ must refer to the season, because otherwise we would be talking about the beginning (exordium) of the Eucharist, which would make little sense, at least at the beginning of Lent.

    The manuscripts differ slightly in their versions of this text. Some, including the Gelasian, have ‘venturum (upcoming) . . . exordium’ – perhaps reflecting an understanding that Lent began on the following Sunday, Quadragesima, even though the preceding Wednesday was already a fast-day, but apparently with no ash-ceremony as yet.

    Moreover, the Gelasian has not ‘celebramus’ but the subjunctive ‘celebremus’. So the Gelasian text could be translated:

    Make us suitable and fit, we pray, O Lord,
    for offering these gifts
    so that with them we may mark the beginning
    of the venerable and sacred season itself.

    This gives fuller force to ‘ipsius’, which doesn’t really mean ‘this’.

    The moving of the prayer from before Lent to within Lent has rather weakened its sense of looking forward, which several commentators have mentioned.

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